The NBA Western Conference Finals are here and for the fourth time in Denver Nuggets franchise history, they will be one of the participants. For the third time in franchise history, their opponents will be the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets have never advanced to the NBA Finals. The journey to change that starts tonight in Game 1. As the heavy underdogs, if the Nuggets can pull it off it will be another chapter in what has become a story tale offseason.

There’s good reason to believe that the Nuggets are underdogs as well. After all, the Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They were the top seed in the west by a fairly wide margin and they’ve had little trouble dispatching their first two playoff opponents. Despite a rocky start in the bubble seeding games, it appears that L.A. has got themselves in to full playoff mode. Throw in the fact that LeBron has always been able to put it into another gear in the biggest moments and there’s no question that Denver is the underdog, talented though they may be.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (0-0) vs Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)

When: 7:00 PM MDT

Where: The Bubble. Orlando, FL.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. TNT, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Sneak into the bubble with an Adam Silver mask. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival Blog: Silver Screen and Roll

Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Pacers Advantage
PG Monte Morris Malcolm Brogdon Pacers
SG Jamal Murray Justin Holiday Nuggets
SF Will Barton Doug McDermott Even
PF Michael Porter Jr. Domantas Sabonis Pacers
C Nikola Jokic Myles turner Nuggets
Bench P.J. Dozier, Zeke Nnaji, Isaiah Hartenstein, Vlatko Cancar T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, Edmond Sumner, Aaron Holiday Pacers

Player availability: Will Barton – out (knee), Vlatko Cancar – out (foot), LeBron James – probable (groin), Rajon Rondo – questionable (back), Dion Waters – doubtful (groin)

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs the Lakers Bigs

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After enjoying a Los Angeles Clippers team with no significant size to speak of outside of Ivica Zubac, Nikola Jokic now finds himself going up against a team with not one, not two but three powerful, athletic bigs. We’ve seen in the past that the key to containing the Joker is a pairing a power forward and center with size and speed to throw at him. The Lakers are uniquely built to be able to do that and if the regular season contests between these two teams are any indication, L.A. is going to make it hard on Jokic. I expect the series to be more Utah Jazz than Clippers in terms of Nikola. He probably won’t put up a 22 rebound triple double, but he’ll need to find a way to still be a 20-10-6 guy if Denver is going to win.

Key thing to watch for: emotional let down

Hopefully the butt whooping the Nuggets took in the first game of the Semifinals is still fresh in their minds. They had an extra day of rest this time around, but the circumstances are still similar in that they are coming off an emotionally and physically exhausting series and now have to find a way to ramp it up once again. It seems almost silly to say given what they’ve done so far, but they really can’t afford to just punt on a game against the Lakers. No, I won’t say Denver can’t come back if they fall behind in this series but they should probably try to not back themselves in a corner again. You play with fire enough times you’re going to get burnt. Dropping the first game because you’re not ready to go is playing with fire.

Opening thought: the WCF is not enough

There’s a sentiment that everything is gravy from here on out, that beating the Clippers in game seven is the best victory in franchise history and we shouldn’t ask for more. Screw that. As I said, the Nuggets have never made the NBA finals before. If not this team, who? If not now, when? The Nuggets are young and the future looks bright, but futures get altered drastically in a second. There are no guarantees they will ever get another shot at this. The time is now, the team is this one. I have no doubt this team expects to win this series, the fans should too. They deserve it, we deserve it. LeBron had his time, Davis quit on his team to go ring chasing. The Lakers organization gets a pass on being garbage at roster building simply because they are in L.A. They hang their hat on the accomplishments of the past and marketing opportunities. Frankly they didn’t have to do anything other than show up to get a roster capable of going the whole way. Screw that. Denver put in the work and did it the hard way, the right way. They deserve more than a ticket to the dance, they deserve to be crowned the new kings of the NBA. Beat L.A.